Prolific songwriters show up in strange places

By Mary Ann Enloe | Feb 05, 2014

Canton native Richard Hurley, retired human resources director for Square D Corporation in Asheville, is more well known for the time he devotes to good causes than he is for writing music.

When asked what boards he currently serves on, the trustee of Asheville-Biltmore Technical Community College quickly named about six. He has retired from many. He maintains a Haywood County connection as a long-time member of the Folkmoot board of directors and has been its official emcee since the festival's inception 30 years ago.

Throughout his busy life, the native of the Dutch Cove community of Haywood County has found time to write words expressing experiences he has had and heard about, and to set them to his own tunes.

"I write the words first, and then the tune just comes to me," he said in a recent interview.

He has compiled them into a CD, "My Mountains, My Songs." Hurley began writing songs as a teenager.

"I worked at the mill (Canton's Champion International paper mill) in the summers and one of my first ones was 'There'll Be No Three-to-Eleven in Heaven,'" he said. "Then when I was at Carolina (UNC-Chapel Hill) we all knew we'd have to go into the service before we could begin our careers, so I wrote 'The Viet Nam Blues.'"

A remark in a bar when Hurley was on active duty in the Navy in 1970 led to "My Budweiser Billfold," which is included on the new CD.

"I heard a guy say his girlfriend had a Scotch-and-water taste and he had a Budweiser billfold, and I went back to the ship and wrote the song," he recalled.

Hurley served on the aircraft carrier USS WASP. A teenaged Hurley hit local airwaves in 1963 as a disk jockey on Canton's AM station WPTL. Never bashful, the young DJ invited banjo legend Raymond Fairchild to appear in live shows on the fledgling station. That began a lifelong friendship and Fairchild can be heard on Hurley's "The Ballad of Old Fort Mountain" along with Madison County's fiddle master Arvil Freeman and festival favorites Josh and Wayne Crowe.

Hurley had regional success in 1981 with his 45-rpm vinyl recording of the song about the steep, curvy highway east of Asheville. Hurley wrote the words and music to all 15 cuts on "My Mountains, My Songs." The musical history lesson includes such titles as "The Cold Mountain Bomber Crash," "Asheville--Beer City," "Bele Chere Magic," "A Tribute to Bascom Lamar Lunsford" and "Shindig On The Green," which features Grammy Award-winning banjo player Marc Pruett, also of Canton.

A performer since college days, Hurley said he aspires to be known as a songwriter. "As a performer, I'm certainly not in the same category as Steve Sutton and a lot of these other boys around here. I used to see Steve when he was about eight or nine up there on Soco Road playing with Raymond. Steve's an entertainer's entertainer," he said of the Grammy nominee and IBMA award winning banjo player from Waynesville who got his start playing with Fairchild. "I want to be known as a storyteller and a songwriter.

Grammy Award-winner David Holt said in the liner notes of "My Mountains, My Songs" that Hurley '...grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina and every song he writes has that strong sense of place.' Holt brought Hurley and the multi-talented producer Josh Goforth of Madison County together.

Hurley gives Goforth and Eddie Swann, control room technical expert, a great deal of credit on the project.

"Josh did the musical arranging and played most of the instruments. It's a lot different today than when we did 'Old Fort Mountain,'" Hurley said with a laugh.

His good friend Stephen Heller was the studio engineer in 1981 and has remained a source of encouragement, said Hurley.  "My Mountains, My Songs" can be purchased at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville, Home Town Hardware in Canton, Frank's Grocery in Bethel, Joey's Pancake House in Maggie Valley or by logging